Personal finance topics of special interest to the caregiver.

Dollars and Sense: Need for a relay team

Dollars and Sense: Need for a relay team


The early stages of Alzheimer’s are often characterized by denial.

But when it comes to personal finances, vigilance is the watchword.

You’re going to need a relay team.

The Clock is Ticking

An unpaid bill, a lost wallet, or an overdrawn bank account may be the indicators that shift your nagging concerns into action. You’ve suspected that something isn’t quite right, but you haven’t had evidence until now.  But one clue – and a common one – is that a loved one isn’t managing finances as effectively as in the past.

A diagnosis of Alzheimer’s can be overwhelming for all concerned. But time is of the essence. It is critical that those who are now going to take on the role of caregiver not be paralyzed into inaction. Instead, consider this a window of opportunity to get financial matters under control. This window may be brief, depending on the rate of cognitive decline.

Five Financial Clues to Cognitive Decline

  1. Decisions that are inconsistent with past decision-making
  2. Refusal to discuss financial decisions with family or friends
  3. Inability to explain a decision
  4. Inability to gauge the implications of one decision over another
  5. Loss of recall that a decision was made

It Takes a Relay Team

Caregivers do not need to take on the management of financial matters on their own. Risks can be minimized while maintaining the dignity of the individual and achieving optimum financial outcomes.

Needless to say, there are potential financial risks for the person with dementia. Money mismanagement can have serious consequences. But there are also risks for caregivers (they can be accused of financial impropriety) and for third parties who, unaware of a client’s cognitive decline, are trying to serve clients according to their wishes.

One way to avoid these pitfalls is to set up a financial management “relay team.” The primary caregiver is the coach of this newly formed team and may also have a role within the team itself. Each team member provides a specific type of financial expertise that is needed at a particular point in the Alzheimer’s journey. The team members may be individuals, institutions such as banks, and financial professionals such as bankers or accountants.

Team members interact by passing the baton, which represents the decision-making protocol at each stage of the disease.  The coach will guide and monitor team members as they perform their duties, respecting and following the wishes of the individual with the dementia diagnosis. It is critically important that the entire team be established as early in the disease’s progress as possible, and that all members are aware of team-member’s roles.

The first person in the relay is the person who is living with Alzheimer’s. He or she is currently making their own financial decisions and setting the pace that represents their wishes. As the effects of the disease progress, the baton is prepared for the handoff to the next stage of the relay, providing more support to the decision-maker. This process eventually reaches the final member of the team who is legally appointed as the substitute decision-maker. The final team member steps in when decision-making capacity is fully compromised and completes all financial decision-making through to the end-of-life.

Timing is Everything

It is challenging to determine when to pass the baton from one relay team member to the next. There is no definitive measurement of cognitive ability. No test or brain scan will indicate how much decisional ability has eroded.

Depending on the subject matter, decisional abilities decline at different rates. For example, a decision about medical interventions requires lower cognitive abilities than do investment decisions. Even within financial decisions there will be different levels of cognitive capacity needed, depending on the financial complexity and the level of past experience.

Removing control over decisions too early may mean prematurely limiting the autonomy of someone living with Alzheimer’s, especially in its early stages.  But passing the baton too late may mean placing the individual’s assets at risk or leaving caregivers open to accusations of irresponsibility.

You can read more articles on aging and money by Lee Anne Davies at

When Life Bites You in the Wallet: Taking Control of Your Finances

Financial experts Lee Anne Davies and Blair Mantin share insights on money fallacies, human nature and relationships. Providing stories about problems that arise at different life stages, the writers deliver a solution for every financial challenge. Each chapter is brief and focuses on a single life event or life stage that typically involves finances. Reader-friendly and approachable, this self-help book will make you feel as if you’re talking with a supportive and insightful friend.

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Lee Anne Davies

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